In the spirit of Banned Books Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world. BBW is the American Library Association’s annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. We hope you enjoy reading about these different points of view! We really enjoyed putting this series together!
Our guest today is Karen Yingling, an Ohio middle-school librarian, who also writes a popular blog, Ms. Yingling Reads, about the YA lit she comes across in her quest to read every hardcover fiction book in her library. Needless to say, at StorySnoops, we are extremely impressed with this challenge, and with her amazing progress!
Welcome Karen! Thanks for joining us here today.
We understand that the ALA advocates against all forms of censorship, but do you ever feel pressure to withhold certain books from children? If so, where does the pressure come from and how do you deal with the situation?
The pressure comes in the form of a very limited budget, and the necessity to provide books that support the curriculum and are age appropriate. This is why I have been somewhat confused by the recent Ellen Hopkins disinvitation—our 8th grade does have a brief unit on problem novels, but I would not consider her audience to be middle school students. Once I finish buying books for language arts units, nonfiction to support research projects, and topics that my students request to fulfill other reading requirements (like sports, humor, and fantasy books), there isn’t anything left to spend on books written primarily for high school students. It is a hard choice, and I’m sure my views are not shared by all librarians.
Are there any specific sticky situations that you have found yourself in with regard to this issue?
I had a novel about heroin abuse that was very popular with the students after the problem novel unit. There was some bad language, but the message was clearly antidrug. I had a parent go to the principal about it without checking with me. I was told to keep the book on “closed reserve”, which I did. I’m not sure where that book is now—with the renovation, things might have gotten accidentally reshelved. I find that the less fuss I make about books, the fewer problems I have.
In reading the ALA Lists of Banned and Challenged Books, we were surprised by how many of our favorite books are on that list! Which of these books surprised you the most, and why?
None of them, really. People will complain about anything. I was amused by the brouhaha over Adam Selzer’s How to Get Suspended and Influence People. It actually encouraged one of my teachers who would not read it earlier to pick it up!
On a lighter note, we know you are all about creating an atmosphere that gets middle-schoolers excited about reading—what do they like best about your library?
We were recently renovated, so we are all enjoying the smell of new carpet! The most important thing about my school is that all of the teachers want to make sure that the students have books that they enjoy. Having read widely is very helpful in this regard. Not only am I able to match students up with topics they want to read, but the fact that I can tell students a little about each title and give them something I liked about the book reinforces the concept that reading can be a life long occupation. The students know that I am not asking them to do something that I don’t do!
How are you coming along in your quest to read all of the fiction in your library? How many titles do you figure you’ve read by now?
In the past eight years, I have read over 4,000 books, and since I’ve been an avid reader all of my life, I can’t even begin to guess how many I’ve read altogether. I am coming to the end of my collection—there are a few Lawrence Yep and Jane Yolen titles I have to pick up, and I’ve only read three Erin Hunter books, but since I try to read all books before I buy them, I’m almost caught up!
What are your favorite books of 2010 so far?
On a personal level, I enjoyed Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, Leslie Connor’s Crunch, and Sarah Mlynowski’s Gimme a Call. I was very excited about Jason Henderson’s Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising and Stephen Cole’s Z Rex because the students will like them so much.
And just because we’re Snoops, tell us what character you would most like to hang out with for the afternoon.
It would have to be Anne Shirley Blythe from Anne of Green Gables. I would love to sit on the porch at Ingleside having a cup of tea, talking about our children, and then finding some trouble to get into.
Thank you Karen! Be sure to read more about Karen’s adventures in the library on her blog.
We have had a great time putting together these Banned Books Week interviews, and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!